Why I Teach [Math]

 Posted by on January 30, 2017  Add comments
Jan 302017

Inspired by Annie Perkins and her post "For Those Hesitant to Protest" and prodded by a friend to share the following more widely, I offer here the following passage which was my contribution our family's Christmas letter to family and friends this year.

While I do enjoy math a great deal, what I truly love is being part of a classroom community where people are gaining confidence that they can figure out how to understand difficult things and are developing an awareness that deep understanding develops best when they engage, ask their own questions, seek their own answers, and listen carefully to and build upon the questions, ideas, and experiences of others.

Over and over again in mathematics we encounter indisputable evidence, indeed absolute proof, that there is more than one “right” way. We see that what’s right—yes, even in math—depends upon our initial assumptions. We train ourselves to be alert to the possibility that we are wrong. We deepen our awareness of our capacity to learn from our mistakes. We figure out that the majority is not always right. We come to appreciate the importance of listening to the quiet voices and the dissenters.

We realize that people are better able to wrap their minds around what we want them to hear if we first listen carefully to what they do or don’t understand about the problem at hand. We experience our own resistance to considering new approaches, and then experience the awe that comes when changing perspectives or even whole paradigms opens our eyes to worlds we never imagined existed.

And, if we’re paying very close attention, we recognize how much our experience in an abstract world can teach us about living fully and compassionately in the real world.

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